Friday, July 31, 2015

How to Make Perfect Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Every baker should know how to make a proper Swiss meringue buttercream.  Not only is it one of the best buttercreams with which to ice a cake or a batch of cupcakes, but it is also one of the easiest buttercreams to make.  If you've never had the pleasure of tasting a true meringue-based buttercream before, then you're in for a real treat.   

I find this very stable buttercream a pleasure to work with whenever I want to pipe rosettes, stars, pearls, flowers or any number of shapes with my piping bags.  A sampling of Swiss meringue buttercream will call to mind vanilla ice cream with the smooth texture of sweet, softened butter that is light, airy, tempting, and not too sweet.  It's exquisite.

Yes, you can most certainly custom flavor the buttercream to your liking with any number of extracts or with the addition of fruit curds, jams (strained of course) or melted and cooled chocolate, and you can tint it from a variety of colors to make cakes that are true works of art.  The basic buttercream can be used any number of ways.

This crumb-coated two layer cake shows just how smooth the buttercream is.  Although many of us like the sweet flavor of confectioners sugar-based buttercreams (this type is always welcomed), it's a good thing to have a genuine Swiss meringue buttercream recipe under one's belt for those special occasions when you want something less sweet.

Recipes for this type of buttercream vary slightly from author to author. The key to a perfect buttercream is about getting a good ratio of butter to sugar to egg whites, to create a stable emulsion.  

The ingredients are few and the technique, as I said, is quite routine.  After making this recipe or anyone else's a few times, you many not even need to look at it ever again because it truly is easy.  This is how you do it.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Ingredients
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 lb. or 4 sticks unsalted butter, cool, but not straight from the refrigerator (cut each stick into 4 pieces or into tablespoon pats)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Yield: approximately 4 cups of buttercream.  This will fill, crumb coat and ice an 8" or 9" double layer cake.  If you want to decorate the cake with rosettes, stars, etc., double the recipe.  Leftover buttercream will freeze for up to one month sealed properly.

I like making my buttercreams with a stand mixer, using both the whisk and paddle attachments.  If you're lucky enough to own a paddle attachment that has those rubber wiper blades, use it for this recipe.  I find it to be most useful for this preparation, because I don't have to stop the mixer to wipe the bowl down of all that meringue as I'm adding the butter.  

In the bowl of your stand mixer set over a pot of simmering water, whisk the egg whites and granulated sugar until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture reaches between 115F to 120F on an instant read thermometer.  Make sure that you're whisking the entire time the meringue is on the stovetop so that you don't accidentally curdle the eggs.  Once the meringue is the proper temperature, attach the bowl and whisk attachment to the mixer and whip on high speed.

Continue whipping the mixture until you have thick, glossy meringue and the mixture has cooled to room temperature (this can take anywhere from 5-7 minutes).  Touch the outside of the mixer bowl and check to see if the mixture has cooled down significantly.  You can hasten this by holding a dampened kitchen towel to the bottom of the bowl as the meringue is being whisked.

Stop the machine and inspect the meringue.  It should look like this.  Scrape down the mixer bowl and the whisk attachment of meringue.  Reattach the bowl to the mixer and fit it with the paddle attachment.  Turn the speed to medium and begin adding the butter, bit by bit.  You want each addition of butter to be absorbed into the meringue before adding more.

Once the meringue has taken all of the butter, you will notice that it will begin to look curdled (above) and at some point, the mixture will break down.  This is normal.  Keep whipping the mixture on medium (KitchenAid speed 5 or 6) until it smooths out.

Add the fine sea salt and the extracts last, once the buttercream has come together.

Stop and inspect the buttercream.  When it's ready it should be ultra smooth and creamy.  The closeup above shows you what it should look like.  Go ahead, give it a taste.  Isn't it good?

You can use the buttercream straight away or you can keep it at room temperature, well-covered, until ready to use that day.  Make sure that if you're not using it straight away, that it's in a cool part of the kitchen.  If you refrigerate the buttercream, you must let it come to room temperature and whip it well with a spatula to smooth it out before icing a cake.

Frozen buttercream will keep in a zip top bag for up to one month.  Thaw in the refrigerator overnight and bring to room temperature before rewhipping with a stand mixer or handheld mixer.

The moment you begin to coat cake layers in this buttercream, you will instantly take to it.  Notice how easily and smoothly it applies, without tearing into the cake.  If you like white cakes, chiffon cakes, genoise layers or any cake that's delicate, a Swiss meringue buttercream will be the type of icing you want to decorate them with.

This buttercream doesn't have to be reserved for cakes only.  Use it for mini, regular or jumbo cupcakes.  It is a dream on these dainty treats!

For my birthday cake, I had to use this buttercream on the white layers because I knew that they were delicate.  I can't wait to make this cake again very soon.  


I told you it was a 'piece of cake' to make Swiss meringue buttercream. There is nothing daunting or difficult about making this buttercream at home, as long as you pay attention to the consistency as the buttercream is coming together.  Pipe away to your heart's content when you have a batch of Swiss meringue buttercream and a couple of cake layers.  However, if you want to keep things simple for cake layers, cupcakes or even loaf cakes, all you really need is a spatula to spread the sweetness.

Make Swiss Meringue Buttercream once, and you will become a fan of it. Make it twice and you will find yourself wanting to bake cakes more often.  I can guarantee it.

Cheers!

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